In case you weren’t caught up, Balenciaga just showed its 2023 resort show in New York – the New York Stock Exchange, to be exact. Models walked a catwalk flanked by audiences on stock brokers’ stools, and with the backdrop of the endless screens on the floor glitching and becoming more and more distorted as the show went on.
Exploring the concept of “money as the biggest fetish in the world”, the iconic show space fed into the central concept of the collection, and was supported by personalised wad of cash used as an invite, as well as a deep-dive into consumption, commerciality, wealth and identity. And whilst the collection itself was impressive (debuting a new Garde-Robe line and adidas collaboration), Balenciaga’s genius lies in its creation of a universe for each new collection and show. When placed in the context of their show venues, the brand’s clothes take on an elevated sense of power, poignance and meaning.
We’re taking a look back through some of their best show spaces and concepts, from a flooded, forced confrontation with the climate crisis to existing within a Simpsons episode.
SS20 – BALENCIAGA PARLIAMENT
For SS20, and with four years under his belt at Balenciaga, Demna staged a show which aimed to emulate the circular room where the European Parliament congregates, with the set designed in the same vivid blue. Working with fragrance scientist Sissel Tolaas, the presentation saw scents released from the walls and ceilings that were dubbed scents of ‘power’, and smelt of antiseptic, blood, money and petrol. According to Tolaas, who captured the scents in locations such as big banks and the offices of European Lobbying groups, the show was set to “change the world”.
SS22 – THE SIMPSONS / RED CARPET
SS22 saw Balenciaga step it up a notch, or two. The first ‘act’ of this show saw celebrity and Balenciaga-atelier attendees walk the red carpet and be photographed by a throng of paparazzi which included Juergen Teller, whilst being live streamed inside the theatre they were there to attend. Inadvertently forming the actual show, this red-carpet live stream was revealed as a meta-commentary on the world of fashion and celebrity: what makes a fashion show? And what if you don’t know you’re walking in one?
Once attendees were inside, however, the second part of the show played out on the big screen – inside a Simpsons episode. Blending the worlds of digital and physical as has become the norm for Balenciaga, we saw Homer take part in a Simpson-ified digital Balenciaga fashion show, in a specially produced minisode. Iconic, to say the least.
SS19 – PSYCHEDELIC TUNNEL
Speaking of digital, the year previous saw Balenciaga construct an immersive tunnel for models to walk through. Lined with video installations by video artist Jon Rafmna, the visuals were psychedelic and remnant of a futuristic, galactic space. A voiceover repeated “presence is key, now is the answer, ego is not who you are”…
AW20 – CLIMATE EMERGENCY
Then came AW20, in which Balenciaga departed from the vivid hues of the previous season to enter an all-black world, which drew attention to climate change. Models walked through a flooded runway, whilst the show venue’s roof consisted of a screen showing the effects of climate change on the environment: fires, storms and disasters. The first two rows of the audience were also partially sunken and submerged – nothing like a sodden fashion editor’s shoe to cause a scene.
AW22 – TRIBUTE TO UKRAINE
At the most recent Paris Fashion Week, Balenciaga staged what many consider to be its most powerful show yet. Set against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war which had just broken out at the time, it began in pitch black – with a voiceover reciting a poem by Oleksandr Oles, one line of which translates to ‘Live Ukraine, live for beauty…like the wind in a wide field’. From there, the show space was lit up and revealed: a frozen tundra, complete with a blizzard, which the models soon began to walk through. Struggling through the winds, and looking visibly cold with the industry watching from behind glass, the inferences were clear: Demna had constructed a voyeuristic stage for his designs to be received, that had the effect of holding a mirror up to the audience at large, the industry’s complicity, and “fashion week’s absurdity”.
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